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  • Paul Rutherford

HIRED TO BE FIRED


According to the BBC today, Harrods – the legendary London department store - as been sold to the Qatari Royal Family’s investment company. Stories of the great retailer are many and varied. This is my favourite from the 1960s. It may be apocryphal. I hope not, because it demonstrates a genius for providing customer service and understanding customer value. The best job in Harrods was ‘The Man Who Got the Sack’. He spent most of his day in a small office at the top of the building, drinking tea, doing the crossword and some light filing, waiting for the telephone to ring. He’d usually get one call a day. Occasionally two. When it came, the voice on the other end was always a Departmental Manager, summoning him urgently. At once, he took the lift to the appropriate floor and made his way to the said Department. In this case, China and Glass. There he found the Manager placating a customer. “Johnson,” the Manager said, gesturing to the customer. “Do you know who this is?” No, said the Man Who Got the Sack, shaking his head while examining the carpet. “This is Lady Dowager Fortescue-St Clair. Lady Dowager Fortescue St-Clair is one of our most important, valued customers. As was her mother, the late Lady Dowager Fortescue-St Clair.” The Man Who Got the Sack bowed slightly. He knew his place. “Her Ladyship recently came into our emporium and bought a fine Royal Dalton, 48-piece dinner service as a wedding present for her daughter. She asked for it to be delivered. That, I believe, was your responsibility.” The Many Who Got the Sack acknowledged that it was. “Well, you can imagine the distress we caused Lady Dowager Fortescue St-Clair when the said Royal Dalton 48-piece dinner service arrived, was unwrapped, and found to be a Royal Dalton 47-piece dinner service. Plus a broken gravy boat.” The Man Who Got the Sack agreed that this must have caused considerable distress. The Departmental Manager continued: “The cause of the broken gravy boat was you, Johnson. It appears that you had not wrapped it properly, thereby committing it to a damaging fate. What do you have to say for yourself?” The Man Who Got the Sack humbly apologised, now looking at his shoes. But the Departmental Manager was not finished: “This is not the level of service our customers expect from Harrods, Johnson. And certainly not the level of service we should provide to our most valued customers like Lady Dowager Fortescue-St Clair. Therefore, I want you to go immediately to the Personnel Office and collect your cards. Your slap-dash approach shows that you are not suited to a career with Harrods. Good day to you.”

On cue, the Lady Dowager tried to intervene, and said that dispensing with Johnson’s services was rather harsh, and that his apology was quite enough. “Your Ladyship’s benevolence does her great credit,” said the Departmental Manager, rubbing his hands together like Uriah Heep. “ But it is Harrods’ policy to provide the greatest care and attention to its customers, and Mr Johnson has failed to do so. We cannot risk such a dreadful incident happening again, and I can only apologise on behalf of the entire company for this slipping of standards. We are indeed fortunate that you are the source of human kindness, and willing to forgive our appalling error. “Johnson – why are you still here?” At which, Man Who Got the Sack went back to the lift, took it to the top of the building, and returned to his small office, his tea, his crossword and his light filing. And awaited his next telephone call.

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